Yearly Archives: 2004

Sept – Oct 2003

Ten Ways Cats Age More Gracefully Than Humans

(In no particular order and in no way claiming to be a definitive list.)

  1. SkyeBeing quadrupedal, rather than bipedal, cats are much less likely to trip, stumble, fall down and not get up again, break something.
  2. While people are often aware that they’re slowing down, physically or mentally or both, cats are not conscious of this. Mice may move faster, but cats definitely don’t slow down – they’re just being their usual cool selves.
  3. Even when cats lose a faculty, such as sight, it has limited impact on their functioning. A blind cat reads as well as it could before going blind and can still find its food dish and the sunny spot without issue.
  4. As with people, elderly cats may sleep more hours than they used to, however cats normally sleep about eighteen hours a day anyway, so who’s going to notice?
  5. Because of their high metabolism, if a cat becomes morbidly ill, it usually dies quickly, rather than suffering the lingering demise humans seem so practiced at.
  6. Unlike people, cats are very in theMoon moment. They don’t fall into reminiscences deluding themselves about the “good old days.”
  7. Cats rarely complain about aching joints, diminishing faculties, lack of appetite, etc., even though they may experience these.
  8. The existence of a cat is a very immediate thing – now they’re here, now they’re gone. There’s no property, money, or material goods for survivors to quibble over and no lawyers need be involved.
  9. Whereas people often become more prickly with age, dropping masks of decorum, cats often become even more cuddly, happy to be warmly on your lap, purring all the while. (Notice I said “often” in both cases, not always.)
  10. Cats never think about going to the gym, diet (other than liking or disliking a given food), heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, life insurance, critical care, what’s to be done with the remains etc. and they CERTAINLY NEVER consider plastic surgery, chemical peels or botox injections.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2003

May – June 2004

If you’re not interested in cats, or at least in pets, I suggest you stop reading now.

As some of you know, I’m a cat person. In my entire life, I think I’ve been sans feline company for a total of about three months. I’m the kind of person that while I’m walking along the street, cats will trot out to greet me. On occasion, they’ve sought me out when in need and I’ve rescued a few from short brutish feral lives.

I’ve also suffered some feline losses the last few years, as age or illness has taken its toll. Moon passed away in my arms at twenty-one-and-a-half. Charlie died rather unexpectedly of cancer when he was only ten. That’s left me with Skye, the last of my Peterborough brood, who for a couple of years was a single cat. He’s now twenty, blind and requires additional nursing, but he’s a happy boy, full of purrs and cuddles and with a hearty appetite that rarely fails him.

About a year ago, with the aid of my friend Lorena (a very serious and talented cat person), we rescued a cat who, through an unfortunate series of circumstances, had been left alone in the apartment across the hall from me. Dashiell, as she came to be known, was a lovely little cat, who was unfortunately easily frightened and consequently sometimes responded aggressively. (And yes, she was named for Dashiell Hammett, who’d also seen some of the darker side of humanity, but successfully turned it into something creative.) Things between Dash and Skye never really settled down. She teased him and he got upset. Over time, her behaviour was starting to tell on him, wearing him down. I thought Skye was on his way out. I had friends stopping by to check on him whenever I had to be away for a whole day. Then my household underwent an unexpected tragedy that has bloomed into a very positive outcome.

About a month and a half ago, I came home late one afternoon. Dashiell hesitated, but she did come and greet me, jumping onto the piano to say hello. I still didn’t have my jacket off, when she let out two very loud, pained screams, swooned, lost her balance and fell to the floor, where she continued to cry out, writhing in pain. I was shocked. I didn’t know what was happening, what to do. Then she stopped. There were a few twitches of whiskers. Then stillness. I felt, I listened. There was no heartbeat, no breathing. It seemed utterly impossible. This was an active seven year old cat, who’d been fine only a few seconds earlier and now she was dead.

Rarely have I felt at such a loss. I didn’t understand what had just happened and didn’t know what to do. I was conscious that I was in a state of shock and needed to do something. Reality check. I phoned two friends, left two messages. Sat with Dashiell’s body, waited for the phone to ring. Lorena called back first. In recollection, the message I left her was essentially a demand to tell me what the hell had just happened. Fortunately, she recognized that shock makes people say odd things, or perhaps reveals more primal traits. I needed an intellectual understanding of the event and she was able to supply that. She checked a few details and then told me it sounded like a heart attack. Apparently some cats have congenital heart problems and tend to die early from them… kind of like some people. Somehow having a rational explanation helped. My other friend, also a cat person, called back and explained he’d had a couple of cats go the same way. The sense that I was in The Twilight Zone was fading through a combination of rational understanding and caring conversation.

Although I’ve experienced a few sudden human and feline deaths, because they’re so out of the blue, there’s no expectation, no mental preparedness. There are substantial heapings of shock, anger and guilt to be gotten through before one can even begin to approach grief. When I can see death approaching, somehow it feels more natural, it’s easier to slide into grief. But as Neil Gaimen so aptly stated in the character of Death from The Sandman comics, “You get what everyone gets. You get a lifetime.” And that might be a second or it might be a century. Then you’re off to wherever… Heaven, the ether, Summerland. Somewhere light and safe and loving.

As with her namesake, Dashiell died during late middle age. Although I miss Dash and am sorry that her life was so short, there was an odd sort of completion to her death. She died the day the apartment across the hall was finally reoccupied.

The unexpected upside of Dashiell’s demise has been twofold. Firstly, Skye rallied. He’s rallied like I didn’t think possible! He’s more active, eating voraciously, has gained back the weight he’d lost and his fur’s looking better again. In short, he’s a happier guy because he’s not being harassed.

The second unexpected event took place about a week and a half ago. I got an e-mail from Lorena describing the circumstances of a cat she’d rescued. This cat had obviously been well loved until recently, when his owner was taken to hospital by ambulance, seemingly never to return. The landlord had emptied the apartment of everything including the cat, who’d been out on the street for three weeks and was having a rough go of it. Some of the neighbours were feeding him, but having not been raised feral, he was used to a much easier, less competitive lifestyle. Lorena had taken him home, where he was settling in, but was a little uneasy with her clowder of cats.

Without much coaxing, I adopted him, with the proviso that Skye would also have to approve. I didn’t want to subject him to any further torments. By the time I had this new cat in my building, I knew his name: Monte. And once you know a cat’s name, he’s yours. Although Monte’s only about two, he’s very laid back and non-confrontational. He’s curious about Skye, but doesn’t want to get into anything with him. Essentially they avoid each other, although even that’s beginning to break down. Skye sleeps at the head of my bed, Monte at the foot. Skye’s still purring, his appetite’s good and he’s become even more active and interested in exploring. Monte does his best to stay out of the way, although Skye, being blind, occasionally stumbles into him. They’re curious about each other, but it’s a very peaceable household.

As is written on a little framed picture my brother once gave me, “Home is where the cat is.” For me that’s certainly true. My home would feel very empty without a feline presence. I’m hoping to get them up to the cottage for a little change of scene and scent for a while this summer. (Not to mention that having a little eau de chat around the place helps keep the mice at bay.) I don’t know how much longer Skye will hang on—after all, he is twenty—but I’m glad Monte’s here now. He’s a wonderful addition to my little family and with his relaxed persona, I’m sure he’ll be around for a long time to come.

P.S. If you’re interested in adopting a feline, I urge you to select a shelter with a no-kill policy. Information on Toronto Cat Rescue and the Lakefield Animal Welfare Society can be found on my links page.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2004

March – April 2004

I don’t know about you, but for me, it’s been a difficult winter. The past few months have been full of heavy psycho-emotional challenges, severe enough that at times they’ve led to physical and financial challenges. Not a fun time. I’m very relieved to see signs of spring.

Through this, I’ve been thinking a lot about normalcy; what it is, why we’re encouraged to fit into it, how we feel when we don’t. Right from the time we enter our first institution, school, we’re encouraged to abide by a norm as prescribed by others and punished when we don’t. I spent a memorable portion of the second grade in the corner or occasionally in the hall. It’s not that I was a bad kid; I just didn’t see the rationale behind the rules I was expected to follow. Like, why should my verbal communication be suspended just because the teacher’s talking? It took me a long time to relearn that what I have to say is just as valid, that I’m just as entitled as the next person to say what I’m thinking. But it’s not something we’re encouraged to do.

Although I learned to play the school game okay, the only way I got through it was by keeping overstimulated with extracurricular activities; writing, music, theatre, art. If I’d been stuck with nothing but classes, I wouldn’t have survived. I’m just not built that way. Not that I’m abnormal, you understand, just easily bored. Personally, I was quite ecstatic the first time someone told me I was “eccentric,” but depending on the circumstance, I might not always be so pleased.

I suppose by now, I’m either supposed to have settled into a business career or given birth to two point three children. Having done neither, having no desire to do either, isn’t “normal.” Some people think that by my age, I should’ve outgrown any childish whims of an arts career. I recently overheard my mother say to my uncle that I don’t work a steady day job because I “don’t like the nine to five.” No mention that in the last ten years every steady day job I’ve had has led to clinical depression and that the last one gave me chronic lung infections and IBS to boot. Some of us just don’t function well in steady state; some of us are all-or-nothing workers. Hence my penchant for creative and freelance work. I have no qualms about doing twenty hour days, as long as I see some relevance, some point, to the work.

To quote a Douglas Coupland title, “All Families are Psychotic.” Well, to put it more politely, let’s just say that “normal” seems to have a very broad range in its application to the family project. For instance, when middle-aged children start saying their parents are suffering from dementia, how is that state defined? What is normal to the natural decline of the aging process and what constitutes an abnormality, a problem? And where can we draw the line between what the aging parent is experiencing and our perception of that? How can we know where our judgement is valid and when it’s a reaction to our own fears of aging, our own mortality? Who’s to decide what normal is, when we’re all in the same boat and facing similar anxieties?

A close friend of mine has experienced a variety of medications intended to create a chemically induced version of “normal” for individuals whose brain chemistry isn’t considered such by the medical profession. Generally, the meds make him lethargic, zombielike. Is that normal? Decidedly not and it certainly isn’t his normal. Whose idea of normal is created by playing with brain chemistry? Arguably, if someone is causing themselves or others harm, some version of chemical control may be desirable, so society can sleep at night, so we know our loved ones aren’t in the bathroom slashing their wrists. But when an individual isn’t exhibiting these actions, what’s to be gained by making them feel controlled if they don’t want to be?

As I said, it’s been a difficult winter. But my twenty-year-old cat, the one I didn’t think was going to see another spring, has. On our most recent visit to the vet, I noticed tulips breaking the surface of the cold ground and daffodils blooming. I quietly celebrated, congratulating him, telling him that soon he’d be able to enjoy the sun on the balcony again.

What’s sustained me through the winter has been kids TV shows. The world is much brighter, simpler and easier to take, when I start the day with “Tractor Tom” or “Yoko, Jakomoko, Toto” along with my morning coffee. This behaviour might indeed be perceived as eccentric and I doubt I’m the “normal” demographic, but five or ten minutes of something funny or poignant, and often quite insightful with regard to human emotion, certainly isn’t harming anyone.

I moved my geraniums out onto the balcony on the weekend and have plans to put in vibrantly colourful flowers this year. I still have lots of work on my plate, but at least I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and am beginning to think about summer plans. I did some vocal practice last night for the first time in a long time and man, did that feel good! I need to get my time reorganized, so I can get back to working out again and playing piano regularly. I’ve been so swamped with paying work and family matters, that I’ve gotten very little writing done. I have to remedy that. I have projects mounting up and too little time and energy to complete them. Years ago a palm reader informed me that this would a breakthrough year for me. I plan on making that true. Happy spring!

© Catherine Jenkins, 2004

Jan – Feb 2004

A few days after Christmas, I made the trudge to the grocery store to restock essentials. Halfway there, I heard a man shout, “Somebody call the police!” As I continued down the block, I saw four men beside the church, two standing, arms crossed, while two others scuffled on the sidewalk. Again, the cry, “Somebody call the police!” came from one of the men on the ground. I quickened my pace, mentally locating the closest pay phone. As I came closer, that I realized the two large men watching wore badges on their vests and were store security, that of the two on the ground, the one on top, the one using excessive force, was plainclothes security, and that the man I couldn’t see clearly, the one whose face was being pushed into the concrete, the one yelling for the police, was presumably a shoplifter.

I continued into the grocery store, not sure what to do. Should I ask the store to call the police? Surely they’d already heard the man’s cries. Then it dawned on me that, given the proximity, the security crew was probably from the grocery store.

One of the cashiers loudly bragged that she’d alerted security. Apparently this rather rough-looking individual had come in, looked suspicious, picked up a box of crackers, considered paying for them, than bolted out the door. The cashier laughed and self-righteously stated, “Theft is theft.”

And me, I’m thinking, this doesn’t sound like the act of a career shoplifter. I said to the cashier, “He must’ve been pretty desperate.” My reaction caught her off guard. She hadn’t considered need. I added, “It’s a shame, because there’s a food bank a block away,” which she turned into, “So, there’s really no excuse.” And all I can think is that she’s never gone hungry. Motivation for the crime? Desperation, possibly mental imbalance, possibly desire to be caught to get in out of the cold (remember that short story?).

As I leave the store, I notice six police cars have arrived to arrest the fugitive. They’re parked at odd angles in every direction, like something out of a Hollywood movie. Good to know that if you holler for the cops in this city, they’ll come. But all this because a street person stole a box of crackers?

In the commercial extravagance of the season, we shouldn’t forget that it’s also a time of charity. And just because Christmas has passed, doesn’t mean we should forget. People less fortunate than ourselves exist year-round, even when we don’t want to acknowledge them. I was raised to believe that our society takes care of those who, for whatever reason, aren’t capable of taking care of themselves. But when I see the numbers of people on the street, many with mental or physical illnesses, I know it’s not true, because it takes so much money.

I check the weather and see that for another night, the temperature’s dropping below –20C. Any morning I expect the first news report of the homeless freezing to death in the night. And yet, I’m inside my warm apartment, and from my balcony, I can see the lights glowing through the dark in the empty, heated buildings of the financial district. Surely we can all do a little better, help a little more, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2004